CHECOTAH — Checotah head coach Chad Hendricks knew going into the season he had loads of skill guys and little depth.
That skill translated to a high energy surge that knocked Hilldale down but not out in the early going here Friday at Ray Grandstaff Stadium, running up four unanswered touchdowns in a little over 11 minutes then holding on for a 35-28 victory over the Hornets.
Give a big load of credit to the Wildcats defense and special teams early, both units flying to the football with reckless abandon.
“We came in with a lot of hyped energy,” said Checotah quarterback and defensive back Jacob Barrett, an Eastern Michigan commit at receiver. “Sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes it’s a bad thing. We still got a lot to learn.”
It began looking like a bad thing as the game wore on, but by then, the early hole made for enough for the host team to get by, if not the self-inflicted mistakes by the visitors.
The early onslaught began when Malachi Harris blocked a Peyton Bennett punt and gave chase before falling on it in the end zone less than two minutes into the game.
Hornets quarterback Melchesidech Porter, in his only pass completion, found Darrin Hays in the flat on a short gain. Hays was knocked loose of the ball and Tyler Whitlock scooped it up and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown.
On the next series, Wildcats defensive lineman Kyler Pouncil tipped a pass by Porter which Brenden Dan intercepted, returning 30 yards for a 20-0 lead.
In came Johnnie Durossette, who through summer and into this contest was still in a dead heat with Porter for full-time Hornet quarterback duties. Hilldale had two three-and-outs, and after a Bennett punt, Checotah running back Dontierre Fisher ran 45 yards up the middle for a 27-0 lead with 1:30 to go in the quarter.
Durossette connected with Dylan Walker on a 57-yard strike with :41 to go in the quarter, and a 1-yard run by Hays to complete a 14-play, 60-yard march got Hilldale back in the game.
But Fisher again broke loose, this time for 60 yards and a score, before Durossette found Walker again for 15 yards with :50 left, closing the deficit to 35-21 at the half.
At that point, Hilldale appeared to have balanced the momentum scales, but the heat and humidity had slowly taken its toll on both teams.
“We like to play with excitement and enthusiasm but we got to be controlled. When you’re excited and it’s hot like this you burn a lot of energy and so we got to learn to feel what it’s like to be in that position,” Hendricks said of his squad, now 2-0. “If we do we have a chance to be pretty good.”
Neither team capitalized on breaks in the second half, with just one touchdown — that coming on defense when Hornets defensive lineman Devin Brandt’s 72-yard interception return came with 2:09 in the third.
“I told our kids if we weather the storm early we’ll be there at the end. When Checotah’s at full speed they are a really good team, but they don’t have much depth and that was our plan, to take advantage of that and wear them down as the game went on,” said Hilldale coach David Blevins, his team now 1-1.
“We had three times in the red zone in the second half and didn’t capitalize. Our defense held them to 15 points, I thought If we held them to 21 points we would have a really good game on defense. We couldn’t get it done offensively.”
Fisher, last year’s Phoenix Newcomer of the year as a freshman, had 155 yards on 12 carries. Durossette, playing all but a few snaps at quarterback after the first few drives, was 19-of-32 for 280 yards but was intercepted twice. Walker had his second straight 100-yard reception game with nine catches for 164 yards.
“Both made too many mistakes,” Blevins said of his junior quarterbacks. “The interceptions hurt, and then both hold on to the ball too long and just aren’t making the right read in that situation and checking down.
“I’ve said all along, we’re young and this is a work in process. We’ll get better.”
Hilldale gets set for its home opener against Oologah while Checotah readies for the annual McIntosh County War with Eufaula.
CHECOTAH 35, HILLDALE 28
Che: Malachi Harris recovered blocked punt (kick failed), 10:19.
Che: Tyler Whitlock 36 fumble return (Jacob Barrett run), 8:48.
Che: Brenden Dan 30 interception return (kick failed), 7:16.
Che: Dontierre Fisher 45 run (Angel Llanas kick), 1:30.
Hill: Dylan Walker 57 pass from Johnnie Durossette (Peyton Bennett kick), :41.
Hill: Darrin Hays 1 run (Bennett kick), 5:24.
Che: Fisher 60 run (Trenton Dan run), 4:42.
Hil: Dylan Walker 15 pass from Durossette (Bennett kick), 0:50.
Hil: Devin Brandt 72 interception return (Bennett kick), 2:09.
Passing, Hilldale, Durossette 19-32-280-2 (2 TD). Checotah, Barrett 2-7-1-2.
Rushing, Hilldale, Durossette 14-46. Checotah, Fisher 12-155 (2 TD).
Receiving: Hilldale, Walker 9-165 (2 TD).